There is rampant abuse and wastage of money under the multi-million-dollar Unemployment Relief Programme (URP), as people such as police officers, nurses and business owners are bleeding the system by signing up for work, doing nothing and getting paid, says Local Government Minister Suruj Rambachan.
He told the Express that by September measures will be put in place to clean up the system and weed out the people guilty of fraudulent activities.
Rambachan spoke of the abuse of the URP programme yesterday at the conclusion of a Strategic URP workshop at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in Port of Spain, which was aimed at strengthening and improving the system.
He disclosed further that some $389 million is allocated for the URP programme annually.
"True, there are policemen who have debit cards, true there are people living in the United States who have debit cards, true there are nurses who have debit cards... we have to weed these people out because they engaging in fraudulent activities by pretending to be workers in the URP and are bleeding the system," said Rambachan.
"We have to deal with the several dozens of gangs who are rostered to work but are no where on the job... we have to do this very courageously and I intend to do just that to work courageously to reform the URP programme," he added.
"It is true and continues to be true that a lot of wasteful activity take place in the URP programme," said Rambachan, who assumed the portfolio during a Cabinet reshuffle on June 25.
He expressed hope that the ideas stemming from the workshop do not go to waste and are utilised in developing the programme.
Rambachan said the country should get value for its money and taxpayers' would be happier if they saw houses being built for the poor and money being invested in helping people as opposed to fattening the pockets of others.
He added that URP can be used in the fight against crime and building better communities.
Rambachan said he has a new vision for the URP programme.
He noted that there was no construction work under the URP programme from January to July, yet 164 construction gangs "got paid to do nothing".
Rambachan said within one week he approved some 120 projects below $70,000 which commenced this week.
He added he approved a further 150 community projects ranging as high as $500,000 and tenders were put out and contracts will be awarded by next week.
The Minister said he is also working with the National Entrepreneurship Development Company Ltd (NEDCO) to design a programme where 1,000 URP workers will be taught entrepreneurial skills and how to become contractors.
He said the aim is to move people from earning $69 to $100 a day to $150 to $200 a day by turning them into contractors and showing them how to make and share profits—with projects under $70,000.
Rambachan assured that the $389 million under the URP programme will be put to more efficient use and will break the culture of dependency.